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Friday, March 25, 2005

The Missing Smile

I was about to leave a chirpy comment at the delightful, but sensitive Outer Life, when my finger - most uncharacteristically - first paused, then wavered, then very slowly stepped away from the "Post" button. It would have said:

Nothing good can come of this. You're setting yourself up for a fall, laddie!

No, wait - that was my voice. Gimme it back, now that you've done with it.

Harmless enough, I'd thought? You read it, you were supposed to smile. Dammit?

My days of firing-off drunken 3am Harrumph!!! mails to company executives are long since past. Still, I shudder to recall the morning-after shudder, the waking new-dawn ohnosecond of stark, scary realization that Yes, I really had called the chief executive a gormless dozey, er, chump. The thing of it is, was, that in that place at that time, the rules were known to everyone: it was understood that anything said while drunk was harmless twaddle, and that, Friday nights at 3am, everyone was drunk and just home from the pub. It was also known by everyone that I, Bearded, could always be relied upon as Monday-morning slagger meat. Rather like Cheers - an especially fitting analogy, it happens - everyone knew your idiocies. It truly was the best company to work for. I miss it sorely.

Those heady days, that company, and very-nearly all my headcase colleagues, all are long, long gone. Cast to the cracked-cheek winds. Everything is different now: no - that is completely wrong - everything has reverted now, for those days were an aberration.

But later - some years later - came blogs: dangerous blogs with their scheming, irresistable commentaries. Cue Michael Corleone standing in the kitchen, Just when I thought I was out whah-whah-whah...

Scented sweetly as a fly trap. Bzzzz.

Thing about blogs is, you read them, the same ones every day, visit them three or four times a day (screw those RSS feeds, which rob you of the pleasure of discovery), delight in new postings or otherwise - the whole time, you slowly come to believe you know the author? Pretty soon you've convinced yourself you're all old pals, grown together drunk together laughed together since primary school? But, of course, you aren't and you haven't: you have been punked, as idiom would have it, by your own psychoterie. The author barely knows of your existence, wouldn't recognize you if you shook his hand or hers. This deception, this false familiarity, leads inexorably to disaster. The most dangerous assumption to make is that the author knows your sense of humor. He will know, when he reads your comments, that you are kidding, joking, having a laugh. Regardless of your subtlety, your mastery of irony, He could not misconstrue. How could he? He knows I'm a nice guy, a good guy, who would never offend?

Oh the trouble I've gotten in to. The embarassment that's felt my collar? But still, so difficult to resist a "Comment" box.

Shock of culture is one thing: to discover that brash americans and lumberjack canadians are not equipped for a good british slagging - the lifeblood of our friendships - is one thing. You learn to accept that they do not compute; that they'll crumble at the slightest onslaught, and take everything you say to heart? You learn to just not do that. And then, gawd help you, you lose your powers and start to wobble yourself whenever you meet some wiley cove out from the Old Country?

But the web? The web is worse than all. The web - blogs - are written not spoken. It lacks all gesture, all tone, all subtle cues to meaning or intent? All you have is the barren word. You quickly realize how difficult it is to cast humor as letters.

We geeks - we ancient geeks, who've been connected and PHONE'ing since before there were the Internets - we geeks contrived a simple scheme of meta-tags (as is our way) to clarify the sense of our communications. Little pictograms of punctuation. Smileys. Emoticons.

We were happy ( :-) ) with our little ways, happy until you lot came along and spoiled it! ( :-( ) You stole our web, usurped our applications, wrote your bloody blogs as though you owned the place: then you turned against us. Smileys and emoticons became bad form: tainted them, so that nowadays they carry an air of the trailer about them? And then - and then, what happens, people leave you comments. Leave you jokes in comments that you just don't get, start a flame war, escalation, rage, IP-banning all the rest and and and and and...

And nothing. You get what you deserve. I still haven't finished my Rembrandt post: two days it's been brewing, but I keep being distracted. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not? Although I'd better bloody hurry. You go read Matt Welch tonight then come back when it's ready - I promise, I wrote mine first.



Blogger Outer Life said...

You should've posted it. I laughed. :-D

7:32 PM  

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